Stop Over-Apologizing

Dear, Anita,

I’ve recently been made a manager in my department, and I think I’m adjusting fairly well. One of my friends within the department called me out the other day, though, for saying “I’m sorry” too much.  I think it’s my way of coming across as sympathetic (as in, “I’m sorry, but the VP wants you to redo this report to include the new sales figures.”) As a woman in management, does this really make me appear weak?

Dear, Brenda Lee,

OverApologizing_Manager_300Is this something new, or have you always been an over-apologizer? It could be you’re feeling a little insecure in your new job. A people-pleasing mentality may be overshadowing your people skills. What new manager doesn’t want to be well-liked?

Saying you’re sorry in and of itself is not a form of weakness. It shows that you are socially aware that your actions may impact others negatively.

It’s a widely held stereotype that women apologize more than men. This Pantene commercial illustrates the all-too-common phenomenon of women apologizing for situations where they are not at fault.

In recent studies, Karina Schumann at the University of Waterloo discovered that women did in fact apologize more than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. (Men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior. I won’t apologize for saying, That figures!)

Your “I’m sorry” in your question above doesn’t mean you are apologizing for something that was your fault (“I’m sorry I didn’t get you those new numbers before you finished your report”) but is more of an “I’m sorry this happened to you and our department.”

There’s something to be said about women using our hardwired peacekeeping skills in teambuilding. But women managers have to tread a narrower line than men between appearing to be a powerless doormat or a strong ice queen.

Saying sorry too often can trivialize the act of apology, making the important ones less significant. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Save your “I’m sorrys” for when you really need them.

Readers: Do you find yourself over-apologizing a work?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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